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Is The 49ers Pass Defense In Trouble?

Jan 2, 2014 at 9:48 AM


A lot of attention has been paid to the 49ers pass defense this week and with good reason. They have given up over 900 yards and 6 touchdowns over the last 3 weeks, and with Aaron Rodgers coming up this can't be good.

Jim Harbaugh is fond of telling reporters to not grab onto the low hanging fruit, so I decided to climb up the tree and give it a closer inspection. The first area of inspection was the pass rush, after all, they have only been able to generate 2 sacks over the last two weeks. Something must be wrong in that area.

What I found was a pass rush that has actually maintained the same level it has all season. You may say, "But with only 2 sacks how can that be?" Let me explain. According to ProFootballFocus, the 49ers have been able to pressure the quarterback on 47.09% of drop backs over the course of the full 2013 regular season. Over this last 3 game stretch, the 49ers have pressured the opposing quarterback on 45.25% of drop backs. This means that there has been a drop off in pressure, by a total of 3, or 1 per game.

After the pass rush, I decided to put the secondary under the microscope. For the season, the 49ers defense gave up a passer rating of 76.4 which is one of the best in the league, but over the last 3 weeks they have given up a rating of 87.1. Obviously there is a problem here. Or is there?

Jim Harbaugh is among the best coaches in the NFL, especially when it comes to managing situations, and this is where 49ers fans get up in arms. Managing the game is why the team often runs the ball more in the second half with a lead but this is about the defense, and it helps explain the performance of the pass defense.

To look at the 49ers situational pass defense, I broke the passer rating up by when they have only a single score lead or are trailing and the passer rating when up by two or more scores. As was previously noted, the 49ers pass defense gave up a rating of 76.4 for the season. When playing with a single score lead or trailing, the 49ers have allowed a rating of 71.5 for the season, compared to a 78.1 rating when up by two or more scores.

Now let's take a look at their performance in these areas over the last 3 weeks. The 49ers have given up a rating of 75.7 when the game was tight, and 95 when they've had a big lead. Considering that the 49ers jumped out to leads of 17+ early against Tampa Bay and Arizona the large yardage totals given up makes sense. The 49ers were playing situational defense.

Does this cause a little additional stress for the faithful? Sure it does, but it has worked. According to Mike Sando of ESPN the 49ers are 5-1 under Harbaugh when giving up 390+ yards passing with those games all being decided by 7 points or less.

During the World Series run of the 2010 Giants, the rallying cry became, "Giants baseball, TORTURE!" In many ways the same can be said for 49ers football.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


3 Comments

  • jack
    Willis will need help from the defensive end to read what the tight end is trying to accomplish. Chucking the tight end will give Willis a great read. If the tight end locks up with the def. end then that's a great indication he's not in the passing scheme and Willis can react to the play action or the run or the passing play. That read has to be quickly analyzed. I'm no expert, far from it, but I used to read the receivers off their actions on the line. I played corner. I got burned a few times by the play action, because I was to would commit to the run to fast. That's one thing the niners have to be careful about with Rodgers. He's quick and he can fool ya and then your in trouble. We as a team need to make our reads quickly, knock people off their routes and I think we will be ok.
    Jan 4, 2014 at 9:46 AM
    0
  • Robert
    Jack, I have noticed that both our offense and defense has gone vanilla once it gets a good lead. I'd like to see harbaugh and roman open it up, but I believe they keep a lot in their pockets to have a trick or two up their sleeves! Have noticed that they tend to go away from things that work during games unless it's running plays . What are your thoughts about that
    Jan 2, 2014 at 11:32 AM
    0
  • pokerjohn
    I hate when people talk about yardage when rating or analyzing a defense. Yards don't mean anything at all, yards don't win games. You know what will win games? Points! Carson Palmer racked up 400 yards at home? So what. How many points did our defense give up ON THE ROAD. If I'm correct they only gave up 20 points. I don't care if A-Rod throws for 650 yards Sunday if they only score 20-28 points I will call that a win for our Defense. If you're worried about yards, you obviously don't know much about this great game. Our defense will play great as they always do. The real question is can roman and JH get their heads out of their asses and play championship ball on the offensive side. The talent is there for that level of play, the coaching hasn't been there.
    Jan 2, 2014 at 10:06 AM
    0


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